VIDEO // Where The Oven Bakes & The Pot Biles

April 9th, 2021 // Interviewer: Shane Allen // Exhibitions


Where The Oven Bakes & The Pot Biles is an exhibition at Shin Gallery in New York City's Lower East Side. The show includes works only from formerly enslaved African American artists and craftspeople, displaying an amazing collection of pots, dolls, paintings and drawings. The show tells the story of lost artists in American History. We captured the show as well as talked to the curator Stavroula Coulianidis to understand the context of the show and learn more about the works included.


What is the title of the exhibition and give an overview of your motivations for putting it together?

The title of the exhibition is Where the Oven Bakes and the Pot Biles. The exhibition is a group exhibition of African-American, formerly enslaved individuals, as well as self-taught artists. Including David Drake, Joshua Johnson, Bill Traylor, Clementine Hunter, and anonymous potters, as well as doll makers from the 19th and 20th centuries. This exhibition acknowledges a group of artists who were forgotten in art history, and that's something that the gallery as well as myself, we try to focus on.


In this particular show, I was inspired by a portrait at the Met, called Juan de Pareja painted by Diego Velasquez. Juan de Pareja was Diego's slave. He was also his studio assistant, and the day Juan de Pareja was freed, was the day he became a painter himself. That story propelled me to create this exhibition as well as that underlying business of discovering forgotten artists in history.




Is that important to you and the gallery display artists who have been forgotten?

We're trying to bring their voices back because there are so many artists who get lost in the time period. So many are forgotten. These aren't just anybody, these are great artists, great painters, great sculptors who didn't get the recognition In their moment in time, and that's important to share for us.


The dolls and the pottery in the show are all very common, human objects, was this important for conveying the idea of the show?

They are very human and there is this very strong connection that people have to objects because we can relate to it. It's something that we have seen in our everyday lives, which I think is also the beauty of displaying this type of work. This is a very historical exhibition. Pretty much all the works are not for sale. This is really just to share with the public.




Someone asked me, “Do you consider this art?” I think it's a really interesting question because you have these historical objects in a gallery setting. I think I consider them a craft for sure. These are really skilled craftspeople and there are artists like Bill Traylor, like Clementine Hunter, Joshua Johnson who make works on paper or on canvas.


But then there are the craftspeople like David Drake and the anonymous doll makers and the anonymous potters who've just learned through other people and through communities. They make these incredible things that were made during slavery, a time where they were forbidden to pretty much do anything, this was almost an artistic outlook for them.


But at the same time, these were utilitarian, you played with the dolls, you could cuddle them, you cared for them. The pots there used to store loads of meat inside to ferment. And that was given to the slave population on the plantations.


Clementine Hunter, she's the only one in this show that wasn’t enslaved. But she worked on a plantation her entire life. They were documented because they were more well-known during their time



It really speaks about the artist’s motivations, when you understand the context in which the works were created in.

Yeah. It’s a very real show, in the sense that there were no expectations of them ever trying to be a famous artist one day or something like that. It was purely creating for oneself.


I think David Drake is a perfect example of that, in that he became a master potter and he became well known for his unique style, the alkaline glaze that he used, the thick handles, the thick rimming. What made him remarkable is that he was literate, he became literate, and we don't know how he did so. Somehow along in his life, he learned how to read and write.


Less than three percent of the slave population could read and write. The fact that he would sign his pottery, L.M., which stood for Lewis Miles who was his owner, the date, and his name Dave, tells a lot.


This is something I can never relate to, this is something most people can’t relate to, so it's hard to put yourself in that position, it's really impossible. I think these artists were doing what they thought gave them individuality, maybe what made them who they are. It gave them a voice.


How long did it take to put the show together?

It took about a year to put together it has been very rewarding. It's taken a lot of time, the works come from private collections and a lot of it was trying to work with various collectors and trying to get them to participate in the show. Also just to show their collections to the public that have never really been seen before. it's been really fun.




Check out the show at Shin Gallery.

Dares Mar 3 - Apr 11, 2021

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For what it's worth.

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